The beaches around Cairns in Far North Queensland are some of the most beautiful in Australia, with soft white sand, turquoise waters, and the Great Barrier Reef not far off the coast.
But when swimming here, there are two dangers to be aware of: stingers and crocodiles. Stingers, particularly the dangerous box and Irukandji jellyfish, can be found in tropical waters from around November to May. For this reason, many beaches in the region are protected by nets and swimmers use full-body stinger suits.
However, some small Irukandji jellyfish can pass through the nets, resulting in beach closures. It is important to obey any warning signs on the beach and only swim where lifeguards are on duty. Stingers are less common on the Great Barrier Reef, and most tour companies will provide stinger suits. You can find a list of patrolled beaches on the Australian Government's Beachsafe website.
When it comes to saltwater crocodiles, they can be found in creeks or tidal rivers near the beach and are very aggressive. You should never swim in or camp near coastal rivers or estuaries in Far North Queensland. If in doubt, you can consult the Queensland Government's Crocwise website for more information.
Very few travelers will encounter stingers or crocodiles during their visit to Cairns, but it is important to be aware of the risks. By following the recommendations of local authorities, you can make the most of your tropical vacation. Read on for our guide to the best beaches near Cairns, including information about where to find stinger nets and when it is safe to swim.
In the northern suburbs of Cairns, a string of gorgeous beaches offers the perfect introduction to the Aussie tropics. (Immediately south of city, the coastline is protected by national park that is not accessible to the public.)
Relaxed Trinity Beach is the first on the list, just a 20-minute drive or one-hour bus ride from the city center. The water is calm, with a stinger enclosure from November to May. There is also a shady walking trail along the esplanade, plus plenty of cafes and restaurants.
Further north, Clifton Beach is a local secret only 25 minutes from the Cairns city center. There is a small shopping village and some holiday apartments, but the waterfront is laid-back and quiet.
The wide sandy beach has a stinger net when necessary, as well as picnic tables, barbecues, and a playground. Neighboring Kewarra Beach has a similar atmosphere but is a little smaller.
On Cairns' northern fringe, Palm Cove is an idyllic escape packed with boutique hotels, luxury spas, and top restaurants. Make a reservation at beachfront restaurant Nunu for a taste of the region's unique Asia-Pacific fusion cuisine.
The palm tree-lined beach is open to the public and is a great spot for kayaking and paddleboarding, or just soaking up the sun. It is patrolled and has a stinger net. If you'd rather have the sand to yourself, try isolated Ellis Beach, a five-minute drive north.
If you're short on time but want to explore the Great Barrier Reef, tiny Green Island is the perfect destination. This coral cay is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park World Heritage Area and is surrounded by pristine beaches and coral reefs.
Depending on whether you take the ferry or a smaller boat, the trip is around 30 to 45 minutes from Cairns. Prices for return transportation start from AU$85 (around $55), with an additional cost for snorkeling gear. Make sure to book ahead as there are limited departures each day.
Regularly ranked as one of Australia's best beaches, Nudey is located on Fitzroy Island, a 45-minute ferry ride away from Cairns. With impossibly blue water, this beach feels like a timeless island paradise.
You can also explore the walking trails on the island, through rainforest that is home to unique native lizards and seabirds. Return transportation from Cairns starts from AU$80 (around $50).
Four Mile Beach
In the resort town of Port Douglas, an hour's drive north of Cairns, you'll find one of the region's most picturesque beaches. The beach itself remains happily undeveloped, just a long stretch of golden sand backed by lush green rainforest.
The northern end is patrolled by the Port Douglas Surf Lifesaving Club, with a net during stinger season. Drive or walk up Flagstaff Hill for an impressive panorama of the area.
Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
Although not technically a beach, the Cairns Lagoon offers a safe place to swim all year round with views across the Coral Sea. This free public facility in the heart of the city is filled with filtered saltwater and includes playgrounds and fitness stations.
The lagoon is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Wednesday, when it is closed in the morning for cleaning. Wheelchair access to the lagoon is available.